OLM Q&A: Demü leads Ottawa’s fashion scene as iconic force
Developing an iconic brand in Ottawa may be challenging for some, but local design team Angie Fisher and Andre Bellemare of Demü are defying the city’s conservative style stigma with innovative designs and high quality garments. Drawing inspiration each year from a different source, the dynamic duo prove they aren’t the underdogs of fashion, but the trend makers defining the local scene with their creative talent and eye for inventive, edgy design.
Demü’s first two collections called Addicted and Addicted II were inspired by “iconic figures that were humbled by their addictions (such as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, James Dean & more),” says Fisher. For their current spring/summer collection, Vigil-ANTI, she said she drew from her love of cartoon superheroes to include garments which featured musical heroes, political heroes and fictional heroes.
Can you explain how the brand evolved from the concept, signature image, style and show room?
I have to admit that both Andre and I struggled with finding our brand identity at first. It’s very hard to ignore what the market is feeding you; as a result, it’s hard to create something that isn’t the same as what’s already been introduced. Your mind immediately goes to what you’ve already seen. In order to avoid accidentally getting inspired by what another brand was doing, we (almost) literally locked ourselves in the nearest Starbucks for weeks and brainstormed what we wanted to portray, not only as a brand, but as a business as well. Once we established what type of brand & business we wanted to be, we started working on the designs and production of our first collection. It is now our goal to reinvent ourselves every season yet maintain that signature Demü look our customers have come to expect from us.
In regards to style, we always have to be on point with the trends each season. We spend a lot of time researching what’s up and coming and looking at ways to put our own twist on it. The showroom became a necessity when we were getting retail inquiries and local consumers asking to come by and try product on prior to purchasing online. Despite our showroom, we still like to do it old school every now and again and hand deliver garments to customers who purchase online, or want to try stuff on before buying. That pretty well summed up our business model when we first launched. We’d fill our trunks with customer requests and drive them over to their place all day for them to try on and purchase. Those are the days that defined us as individuals and as a brand. These are the experiences we will never forget regardless of where this venture may take us.
How do you balance your ideas and collaborate creatively to produce pieces?
Andre and I are both very passionate people with our own set of expertise. It became very evident early on that tasks needed to be clearly defined as both of us would look to have a hand in the others work load. This caused a lot of effort to be redundant and built an overall counterproductive atmosphere.
Now the designing process is mostly executed by me, alone. I will take my ideas from concept to sketch to pattern and tech pack. Before moving on to the sample production phase, I will prepare a presentation of the collection to Andre who will act as a sales representative who decides what he feels he can and can’t sell to our target market. Sometimes it’s back to the drawing board for me, and other times we can move on to the next phase. From there Andre will charge himself of establishing the sample order and I will work closely with a group of artisan producers to insure every garment is perfectly constructed.
Because Andre and I have been a couple since high school, it’s important for us on a personal level as well that we separate the business in to two primary functions where our tasks don’t overlap too much. We’ve learnt how to separate business from our personal life, which was challenging at first.
Who is your target audience? How does your clothing line fill a niche in Ottawa?
Our target audience is the young adult who believes and respects that there is a story behind everything. He (or she) is loyal to brands based on what they stand for and who they are. Yes, our customer is a bit of a nerd, but he (or she) embraces it and makes it look good while maintaining a humble persona.
Demü fills a niche in Ottawa by offering customers the option of wearing stylish garments that are locally designed and produced in their backyard. We also bring a “non-conservative” edge to some of our styles. For example, our men’s deep v-necks were custom cut and sewn a bit deeper than what most in Ottawa are use to. For women, we put our garments through a burnout treatment which essentially burns the cotton fibres from the blend. This results in a sheerer garment. Also, we are proud of how Demü customers are quickly becoming a community. We constantly receive e-mails and hear stories about how some of our customers ran in to other customers on campus, or at the movies, or in any social setting and sparked a conversation solely because they were both wearing Demü. As a smaller artisan brand, this is something we thrive to maintain; a sense of community when you buy a Demü piece.
What do you want people to gain from your designs?
I genuinely feel most fulfilled when I see a wave of undeniably striking confidence come over a customer upon putting on something I have created. My mind immediately does an auto-rewind of the entire process we went through to finalize the specific garment. As a brand, we want to bring that incredible and priceless feeling to each and every person who wears our designs. Our goal is to bolster the self confidence of our clients. We hope that the intricate detail that goes in to each design and the exclusive nature of our garments helps in accomplishing this.
What challenges have you overcome so far as an independent business in Ottawa? Is it
difficult to seek support?
We are immediately labelled as underdogs in the fashion industry when we state that we operate in Ottawa simply because Ottawa is not a major hub for the fashion industry the way Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal are. Ottawa is better recognized for its high proportion of government workers and its vast representation in the tech industry. This makes it a bit harder to gain solid connections that can help us propel our business to the next level. Because of that, we are forced to spend a lot of time traveling to the major hubs in Canada and the United States for meetings and trade shows. It’s fun, but it’s challenging.
In regards to support here in Ottawa, we’ve been impressed on how many local customers have taken a liking to Demü. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that people in general are not use to seeing street wear brands emerge from Ottawa, so when it does happen and the brand is executing its designs well, there is this sense of duty to support. We’ve met a tremendous amount of amazing people that love the product and love the fact that the company operates locally.
What sort of trends are you debuting for spring?
For both men and women, we’re looking to simplify the graphics on our garments and put a focus on meeting the high standards of construction and fit we look to implement on all of our pieces. The result is a set of high quality bodies with specialty treatments (such as the aforementioned burnout treatment), custom forms and embellishments with impact, yet are simplistic.We are also set to introduce our “Alter-Ego” collection which consists of limited quantity hand produced ¾ length sleeve tunics made from 100% Combed ring spun sheer jersey cotton. We anticipate that these will be very popular for the summer time.
What do you see the future of the brand?
Our short term goal for the company as a clothing brand is to be available in independent boutiques across Canada. In the longer run, we’re entertaining the prospect of opening our own location. With that being said, we have not yet decided on where, when and what the store would entail. It’s very much in its early phases of planning. It’s a discussion that Andre and I have over coffee every now and again. In the meantime, we will continue to bring forth collections that strive to surpass our target market’s expectations and coordinate events that will connect our customers.
As a side project (because let’s face it, if we don’t focus on Demü, there is no side project), we’re working on developing a charitable organization geared towards bolstering self-esteem in a meaningful way. We plan that this can come to fruition within a 3 to 5 year time span.
If you think your local retailer should be carrying Demü, e-mail or talk to the store manager about getting in touch. Visit the online store at: www.demulabel.com, blog: demulabel.blogspot.com, twitter: www.twitter.com/demulabel or join the Demü Label fan page on Facebook @ www.facebook.com/demulabel.
Demü is now be available at Eleventh Hour Clothing in Waterloo (at 8 King St. South).